Power Rankings: Sorry critics, but Johnson's charging toward Chase

by | NASCAR Blogger
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There's bad news for those fans that have tired of seeing Jimmie Johnson at the front of the field.

Get used to it.

Johnson's dominant Sunday on his way to a fourth Brickyard 400 checkered flag should put to rest any doubts the five-time champion is back in title form.

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Johnson's third win of the year has the No. 48 team brimming with confidence, as well it should.

"You know, the Chase last year wasn't the strong part of the season for us, and I feel like the product we're taking to the track this year is far superior to what we had then," Johnson said after his win Sunday. "So I feel like our shortcomings of last year are corrected right now, and that's why I want the Chase to start immediately, so we don't have time to be caught or lose our magic."

In fact, Johnson won't stop at just his team but the entire Hendrick organization. With Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s fourth-place finish taking him to the top of the points standings, Johnson believes the Hendrick group is on top of its game.

"There's a lot of confidence in our shop with both teams, and the communication is as good as it's ever been," said Johnson of the 48 and 88 teams working together at Hendrick. "I'm happy to see [Earnhardt crew chief] Steve [Letarte] as confident as he is and Junior both because we can really lean on them and pull from them, and it's a two-way street.

"That's something that's new this year, and I'm proud of both of them for where they're at and where our whole team is."

Where Johnson hopes to be when the final checkered flag of the season flies at Homestead in November is on stage holding Sprint Cup championship trophy No. 6.

There's still a long way to go, but he's certainly headed in the right direction.

"When I look at it, I feel that we're going to be stronger than we were last year. ... Last year's Chase, with it being a tie and coming down to a tiebreaker, every single point is going to count, and you need to win races," said Johnson, who did just that on Sunday.

POWER RANKINGS
CurrentDriverPrevious
1Brad Keselowski2
Took over the Chase lead by 20 points thanks to a sixth place finish and Jimmie Johnson?s misfortune. This is now the Penske Racing driver?s championship to lose.
2Jimmie Johnson1
Saw his seven point lead evaporate thanks to a cut tire and trip into the wall on Sunday. Johnson now must hope a similar such fate happens to Keselowski next week at Homestead to have any shot at a sixth title.
3Kyle Busch4
Nearly ran the table in Phoenix by leading all practices and taking the pole had he been able to win the race. But a poor decision on lane choice for a late restart cost Busch a shot at Victory Lane.
4Kasey Kahne5
Ending the year on a positive note but wasn?t able to match his Phoenix victory of last November. Still a solid day with a fourth place performance.
5Clint Bowyer3
Was the victim of Jeff Gordon?s revenge that completely eliminated Bowyer from championship contention. He wasn?t an angel in the turn of events but Bowyer definitely got the worst of the situation.
6Denny Hamlin8
Hamlin?s second place finish in Phoenix a welcome rebound from two weeks of disappointment for the Joe Gibbs Racing driver. He?ll be a factor for a win next Sunday in Homestead.
7Kevin Harvick12
Snapped a 44-race winless drought with Sunday?s win ironically coming on the weekend when reports of his evacuation from Richard Childress Racing to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014 broke out.
8Greg Biffle6
A decent day for ?The Biff? in Phoenix, who was able to dodge all the last lap craziness to bring home his Roush Fenway Racing Ford seventh.
9Joey Logano13
Minding his own business until getting swept up in the Gordon-Bowyer fight. Logano was on his way to a nice effort to follow up his ninth Nationwide Series win on Saturday.
10Ryan Newman14
Rough way to earn a fifth place finish as Newman was one of the unfortunate souls to get caught in the last lap crash on the main straightaway.
11Tony Stewart9
Not a god day at all for Smoke who spun late after making contact racing for position. A 19th place finish for Stewart.
12Matt Kenseth11
Will make the final Sprint Cup start of his career for Roush Fenway Racing next week at Homestead on the heels of a 14th place effort in Phoenix.
13Martin Truex Jr.10
His race was over nearly before it started with a blown engine. After a stellar regular season Truex Jr. has suffered mightily throughout the Chase.
14Carl Edwards15
An 11th place finish for Edwards as he brings to a close one of the most disappointing seasons in his career.
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